Germany's 10 best castles

Shoot an arrow in Germany, and...

Posted: Dec 12, 2018 2:02 PM
Updated: Dec 12, 2018 2:02 PM

Shoot an arrow in Germany, and more often than not, you'll hit a castle.

It may sound preposterous given the country's reputation for method and organization, but we still don't know how many castles there are on German soil.

British royal family

Buildings and structures

Celebrities

Continents and regions

Europe

Germany

Misc people

Palaces and castles

Points of interest

Queen Elizabeth II

Western Europe

But there's hope for an answer. There's a project underway to count them all and enter them in a database. The estimate stands at about 25,000, including ruins -- some where only the foundation remains.

There are some castles, though, that stand out because of their beauty, their history, their location or simply because they've entered popular culture through a quirk of fate.

Here are 10 of Germany's best castles to see when you travel here:

The impregnable prison: Colditz

Even if you haven't read the book, watched the movie or played the "Escape From Colditz" board game, chances are you've heard of Colditz Castle.

Built strategically on a cliff in 11th-century Saxony, it had been used as a military outpost, a zoo and a mental hospital before it became a prison for political prisoners under the Nazis. Deemed escape-proof, it then held officer POWs during World War II.

Among those held there were British flying ace Douglas Bader, Winston Churchill's nephew Giles Romilly and Viscount Lascelles, first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II.

Despite its impenetrability, there were many successful escape attempts.

Among others, British Lt. Airey Neave, later MP, crawled through a hole during a theater performance; French Lt. Pierre Mairesse-Lebrun was catapulted out; and British Capt. Pat Reid cut through the bars of a kitchen window and later wrote a bestselling memoir that introduced Colditz into mainstream culture.

The romantic ruin: Heidelberg

"Nothing is greater than fallen might" wrote Victor Hugo about the ruins of Heidelberg Palace, which, like a good bottle of wine, has aged remarkably well.

Mark Twain, another fan, wrote: "A ruin must be rightly situated to be effective. This one could not have been better placed."

Constructed of pink-brown sandstone that turns bubblegum-colored at sunset, surrounded by woods and terraced for multiple views over Heidelberg and the lush Neckar Valley, this is the most romantic of German castles.

If you need proof, find the Elizabeth Gate. This dainty baroque arch with delicate carvings was erected in one night in 1615 by Elector Frederick V, as a surprise gift for the birthday of his wife, Elizabeth Stuart of England. What gesture could be more dewy-eyed than that?

The opera set: Wartburg

Richard Wagner fans are familiar with Wartburg Castle from his opera Tannhäuser. It's in the castle's Troubadour Hall that the knight hero enters a "Battle of the Bards" singing contest in Act II.

Indeed, the owners of Wartburg -- a UNESCO-inscribed Romanesque gem dating back to 1067 -- were patrons of the arts and that singers' hall still exists today, refurbished through the eyes of 19th-century romanticism.

Still, there's much more to see, most notably mosaics that portray its most venerated resident, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who was canonized in 1235. Today, though, its main attraction is Martin Luther's office-in-exile. This Protestant pilgrimage spot is where the great reformer translated the New Testament into German, enabling the masses to interpret the text for themselves.

The fairytale: Neuschwanstein

If you thought that Neuschwanstein Castle has an uncanny resemblance to Sleeping Beauty's castle in Disneyland, you'd be right. It did serve as the blueprint.

Neuschwanstein was built by King Ludwig II, the "Mad King" of Bavaria in 1880, "in the authentic style of the old German knights' castles," as he himself described. King Ludwig modeled it on Wartburg, whose Troubadour Hall is replicated here with much more aplomb.

Neuschwanstein's multiturreted silhouette embodied an abstract Germanic ideal, the result of combining medieval designs with 19th-century perceptions of what such designs ought to look like.

Add to this a magnificent setting on a ridge facing the Tyrolean Alps, and it's no wonder Neuschwanstein is one of the most photographed buildings in the world and served as an inspiration to Walt Disney and his animators.

The island fort: Schwerin

We think of a castle perched high on an inaccessible ridge, looking impregnable and fearsome. In the absence of mountains, castles use moats as defenses, but Schwerin Castle, located in the plains of northern Germany, goes one better by occupying an island in a lake.

There's been a fortified settlement at that spot since AD 973, but the current jewel of a building stems from the 19th century and comes complete with a ghost in the cellar ("Little Pete," first sighted in 1747).

When the owner, the Duke of Mecklenburg, abdicated after World War I, no one knew what to do with the castle or cared enough to maintain it.

Its luck turned in 1990, when it became the seat of the regional assembly, and this beautiful castle and its gardens were fully restored to their original grandeur.

The monster's lair: Frankenstein

The unassuming ruins of the 13th-century Frankenstein Castle overlooking Darmstadt bask in the fame of its name. Historians doubt whether Mary Shelley, author of the horror novel, ever saw it, let alone set foot on it.

Although she did cruise on the Rhine in 1814 and passed within 10 miles of the ruins four years before her book came out, the castle doesn't appear in her memoir of the trip.

However, Frankenstein Castle was the birthplace of Konrad Dippel, an alchemist who claimed to have invented the elixir of life and may have experimented with cadavers.

Shelley could well have heard of Dippel's quest -- which by then must have become grotesque in the retelling -- and based Dr. Frankenstein's character on him.

Nowadays, it's a sought-after destination around Halloween with sold-out parties featuring 100-odd monsters that include werewolves, vampires and modern horror villains such as Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers.

The youth hostel: Altena

Many castles have become luxury five-star hotels, but Altena Castle, 40 miles northeast of Cologne, houses a youth hostel that dates from 1912.

That's when Richard Schirrmann, a teacher by profession, opened the world's first youth hostel in the newly renovated castle. In 1919, right after World War I -- where Schirrmann fought in the Vosges front -- he founded the Youth Hosteling Association, believing that bringing young people together minimized the chances of another bloody conflict.

Today, Altena Castle is a double monument to Schirrmann's idealism -- firstly by incorporating a World Youth Hostel Museum in its premises and secondly by still providing the young and the young at heart with affordable accommodation in a genuine, 800-year-old castle.

The grande dame: Meersburg

Overlooking the shores of Lake Constance, Meersburg Castle claims to be the oldest still-inhabited castle in Germany. According to legend, it was built in AD 630 by Dagobert, a king in the Merovingian dynasty. The central keep, Dagobert's Tower, is named after him.

The various residents have modified it according to the whims of their respective eras. Today, it looks part Baroque, part Renaissance or part Gothic, depending on the viewing angle, so much so that it's difficult to think of it as a homogeneous entity rather than as a collection of individual interlocking buildings.

On the plus side, it's been well-maintained because it's been more or less continuously inhabited -- mostly by the bishops of Constance -- except for a short period after the Napoleonic Wars.

The medieval condo: Eltz

Tall, slender and rising perpendicularly on a 700 meter-high rock outcrop with the river Elzach snaking at its feet, Eltz Castle is arguably the most eye-catching castle in Germany.

Towering up to eight stories high, it became widely known when it appeared on the back of the old 500-Deutschmark note. Blessed with an uneventful existence, it was never raided or breached and has remained relatively pristine.

Peace was also reflected internally: in 1268, the Eltz family line split in three and each branch lived in a separate wing with communal rules more akin to a modern condominium.

Only in 1815 did the property return to a single heir, but by then the rivalry of keeping up with the neighbors had resulted in six centuries of better-than-thou lopsided construction that's given the castle today's fascinating appearance.

The showpiece: Hohenzollern

Hohenzollern Castle, on top of a gentle hill 30 miles south of Stuttgart, belonged to the family of the German Kaiser yet was hardly a strategic stronghold. To the contrary, the castle was destroyed twice, passing to Austrian control until 1798 after which it crumbled to a ruin.

With the ascendancy of Prussian military in the 19th century, however, the Hohenzollerns needed to strengthen their bonds across Germany, so they built their version of a medieval castle as an ancestral showpiece.

No one from the Kaiser's family ever lived there, and only toward the end of World War II did the last Hohenzollern descendants arrive from Prussia, fleeing the Soviet Army. Built to look photogenic, it's no surprise that the castle has served as a backdrop in several movies, including Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 32888

Reported Deaths: 1188
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds259141
DeSoto172418
Madison132635
Jones114049
Neshoba100473
Rankin98213
Harrison96911
Lauderdale92280
Forrest91643
Scott77915
Jackson68917
Copiah62015
Washington61710
Leake58919
Lee56220
Holmes56041
Oktibbeha55227
Wayne54515
Warren53218
Yazoo5236
Lowndes50913
Grenada5067
Leflore50053
Lamar4917
Lincoln48434
Pike45416
Monroe42534
Sunflower4208
Lafayette4094
Covington3755
Attala36523
Panola3646
Bolivar35618
Newton3479
Simpson3453
Adams31518
Tate31011
Pontotoc3046
Marion30012
Chickasaw28719
Claiborne28410
Winston2808
Noxubee2728
Jasper2676
Pearl River26532
Marshall2583
Clay24911
Smith22911
Union21810
Clarke21025
Coahoma2056
Walthall2056
Lawrence1872
Yalobusha1807
Kemper17914
Carroll16811
Humphreys1569
Tallahatchie1454
Calhoun1414
Montgomery1392
Tippah13811
Itawamba1378
Hancock13413
Webster12711
Jefferson Davis1134
Tunica1133
Jefferson1103
Prentiss1103
Greene1059
Amite1043
Wilkinson939
George913
Tishomingo891
Quitman811
Choctaw754
Alcorn742
Perry724
Stone692
Franklin452
Benton420
Sharkey370
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 46424

Reported Deaths: 1032
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5486155
Montgomery4246105
Mobile4219136
Tuscaloosa234644
Marshall177011
Madison15548
Lee143337
Shelby135724
Morgan11285
Walker98525
Baldwin9809
Elmore96215
Dallas9109
Franklin90216
Etowah79013
DeKalb7615
Chambers64327
Autauga63612
Butler63228
Tallapoosa60469
Russell5680
Unassigned52226
Limestone5181
Houston5106
Lauderdale5016
Lowndes47821
Cullman4705
Pike4525
Colbert4266
St. Clair4162
Escambia4118
Calhoun3875
Coffee3863
Covington3727
Bullock36810
Barbour3572
Talladega3237
Marengo31711
Hale31521
Dale3020
Jackson3022
Wilcox2948
Sumter28512
Clarke2836
Winston2663
Chilton2622
Blount2511
Monroe2412
Pickens2386
Marion23613
Conecuh2177
Randolph2169
Macon1999
Choctaw19712
Bibb1961
Greene1868
Perry1791
Henry1363
Crenshaw1253
Washington1187
Lawrence1090
Cherokee1037
Geneva840
Lamar801
Fayette721
Clay692
Coosa591
Cleburne391
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 78°
Columbus
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 74°
Oxford
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 75°
Starkville
Overcast
73° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 73°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather